We may reach a point, sometime in the future, when our enjoyment of so called physics-puzzler games reaches a sort of critical mass. When our love affair with annoyed avians, candy addicted whatevers, or ninjas with a vengeance against fruit may well and truly reach its cultural nadir. But as long as inventive, campy, and multifarious games like Icebreaker: A Viking Voyage continue to come out and remind us why we started to relish this genre in the first place, then that national nightmare could still be a ways away.
Taking many of its gameplay cues from aspects of games like Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Fruit Ninja, and even a little bit of Amazing Alex, Icebreaker tells the tale of a young Viking “icebreaker” whose hairy brethren have been whisked away by a magical wind, and the warrior must travel through nearly 100 levels in order to save them. His travels will take him all across the lands, and even underneath them, and will have him doing vicious battle against all sorts of foes like trolls, crows and the historical scourge of all vikings: chickens.
Initially, the gameplay is fairly simple. You rescue your viking friends by freeing them from the icy prisons they find themselves in. You use you finger to slice the ice, and hope that the chunks that your friends are in lands in your ship so that you can bash them free with your hammer. For the first 10 or so levels, that’s pretty much all you do. But later on in the game all sorts of new and interesting elements are introduced. There could be sticky strands of troll snot to cut through to swing your icy buddies to safety, livestock that you need to avoid (or in some cases use to your benefit), traps that you need to trip in a certain way, cannons to be shot, vehicles you need to ride in (like boats and balloons), or levers and pulleys that need to activated in a certain order to get your friends to safety.
There is, in all honesty, far too much variety in the gameplay to talk about here and it may seem like it could easily get overwhelming. But the game does a great job of easing you into the different elements, so that when you do have to use all of your skills to make it all work, you at least understand the basics.
The most inventive facet of Icebreaker, at least in my opinion, isn’t necessarily in the gameplay itself, but in the scoring system. Icebreaker eschews the typical three-star scoring system for something a little more complex and involving. In the beginning, your score is based on how many coins you collect in the level. This is done by sliding your chilly comrades through coins strewn throughout the level or by freeing chests of gold that are trapped in the ice as well. And collecting coins isn’t just for bragging rights. You’ll need a certain amount of coins to unlock future sections of the map so that you can continue on your journey.
As your adventure further through the world, the game does something really fun and introduces the “par” system and this is exactly what it sounds like. Certain levels will have a par score, or a limit on how many slices you should make in the level, and it’s up to you to try and figure out how to do it. The neat thing about this is that beating a certain amount of levels under par will unlock unexplored levels in a previous map. The quasi, non-linear, back and forth nature of this makes for a whole lot of fun and presents you with interesting choices to make. Do you go for par to try and unlock those hidden levels? Or do you try and get all the coins to unlock levels that are coming up? Or do you try and get really hardcore and do both? Having this much choice in a game like this is almost unheard of, and it’s a fantastic way to keep things fresh and vital.
Unfortunately, Icebreaker doesn’t manage to avoid all the trappings of the genre it is so firmly rooted in. Trial and error, and failing over and over again is a pretty common occurrence and can get annoying quickly. The game’s physics can also be a tricky widget to overcome sometimes. You can quite literally do the same thing twice in a row and achieve different results, until you realize that your finger was off by maybe a millimeter that first time. Icebreaker can be brutally unforgiving in that way, and we honestly wish that some regard was given to the fact that your finger can very easily cover up what you’re supposed to be doing in order to be successful. And the game also has “God” powers that can make the levels easier, but they are obnoxiously only available as IAPs.
Those small problems aside, Icebreaker: A Viking Voyage is a genuinely thrilling, imaginative and addicting game. The graphics are impressive, it can be uproariously funny at times, and the gameplay is clever and distinctive. It’s a great first outing from Rovio’s new publishing arm, Rovio Stars.